Saturday, April 26, 2014

SunFlower Facts

Meet Konganator @BillsGarden entry in the
 2014 SunFlower Challenge
 The wild sunflower is native to North America but commercialization of the plant took place in Russia. It was only recently that the sunflower plant returned to North America to become a cultivated crop. But it was the American Indian who first domesticated the plant into a single headed plant with a variety of seed colors including black, white, red, and black/white striped.

American Indian Uses
Sunflower was a common crop among American Indian tribes throughout North America. Evidence suggests that the plant was cultivated by American Indians in present-day Arizona and New Mexico about 3000 BC. Some archaeologists suggest that sunflower may have been domesticated before corn.

Sunflower was used in many ways throughout the various American Indian tribes. Seed was ground or pounded into flour for cakes, mush or bread. Some tribes mixed the meal with other vegetables such as beans, squash, and corn. The seed was also cracked and eaten for a snack. There are references of squeezing the oil from the seed and using the oil in making bread.

Non-food uses include purple dye for textiles, body painting and other decorations. Parts of the plant were used medicinally ranging from snakebite to other body ointments. The oil of the seed was used on the skin and hair. The dried stalk was used as a building material. The plant and the seeds were widely used in ceremonies.

European Developments
This exotic North American plant was taken to Europe by Spanish explorers some time around 1500. The plant became widespread throughout present-day Western Europe mainly as an ornamental, but some medicinal uses were developed. By 1716, an English patent was granted for squeezing oil from sunflower seed.

Sunflower became very popular as a cultivated plant in the 18th century. Most of the credit is given to Peter the Great. The plant was initially used as an ornamental, but by 1769 literature mentions sunflower cultivated by oil production. By 1830, the manufacture of sunflower oil was done on a commercial scale. The Russian Orthodox Church increased its popularity by forbidding most oil foods from being consumed during Lent. However, sunflower was not on the prohibited list and therefore gained in immediate popularity as a food.

By the early 19th century, Russian farmers were growing over 2 million acres of sunflower. During that time, two specific types had been identified: oil-type for oil production and a large variety for direct human consumption. Government research programs were implemented. V. S. Pustovoit developed a very successful breeding program at Krasnodar. Oil contents and yields were increased significantly. Today, the world's most prestigious sunflower scientific award is known as The Pustovoit Award.

Sunflower Back to North America
By the late 19th century, Russian sunflower seed found its way into the US. By 1880, seed companies were advertising the 'Mammoth Russian' sunflower seed in catalogues. This particular seed name was still being offered in the US in 1970, nearly 100 years later. A likely source of this seed movement to North America may have been Russian immigrants. The first commercial use of the sunflower crop in the US was silage feed for poultry. In 1926, the Missouri Sunflower Growers' Association participated in what is likely the first processing of sunflower seed into oil.

Canada started the first official government sunflower breeding program in 1930. The basic plant breeding material utilized came from Mennonite (immigrants from Russia) gardens. Acreage spread because of oil demand. By 1946, Canadian farmers built a small crushing plant. Acreage spread into Minnesota and North Dakota. In 1964, the Government of Canada licensed the Russian cultivar called Peredovik. This seed produced high yields and high oil content. Acreage increased in the US with commercial interest in the production of sunflower oil. Sunflower was hybridized in the middle seventies providing additional yield and oil enhancement as well as disease resistance.

Back to Europe
U.S. acreage escalated in the late 70's to over 5 million because of strong European demand for sunflower oil. This European demand had been stimulated by Russian exports of sunflower oil in the previous decades. During this time, animal fats such as beef tallow for cooking were negatively impacted by cholesterol concerns. However, the Russians could no longer supply the growing demand, and European companies looked to the fledging U.S. industry. Europeans imported sunflower seed that was then crushed in European mills. Western Europe continues to be a large consumer of sunflower oil today, but depends on its own production. U.S. exports to Europe of sunflower oil or seed for crushing is quite small.

The native North American sunflower plant has finally come back home after a very circuitous route. It is the Native Americans and the Russians who completed the early plant genetics and the North Americans who put the finishing touches on it in the form of hybridization. Those early ancestors would quickly recognize their contributions to today's commercial sunflower if they were here.

The reference for this summary was taken from: Albert A. Schneiter, ed. Sunflower Technology and Production, (The American Society of Agronomy No. 35, 1997) 1-19.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"Good Bugs" of Florida

Assassin Bugs: Assassin bugs are generally black or brown, but many are brightly colored, and 1/2 to 1 inch in length.  The head is elongate with a short, curved beak.  Nymphs are just as effective in controlling pests as adults.  There are more than 160 North American species.  They will inflict a painful bite if handled.  An example of an assassin bug is the wheel bug.  It gets its name from the semicircular crest on the thorax that resembles a cog wheel.

Lacewings: Lacewings are common insects, found on weeds, cultivated row crops and shrubs.  They are greenish or brownish, about 3/4 inch in length.  The wings are transparent with many veins. About 87 species occur in North America.  The adults may be predaceous or feed on pollen.  Lacewing larvae are elongate and have large sickle-shaped mandibles.  They are commonly called aphid lions and feed on aphids, other small insects and eggs.
Syrphid Flies: Syrphid flies are commonly found on flowers and are also known as flower flies or hover flies.  This is a large group consisting of about 900 North American species.  The flies vary greatly in color and size, but most are yellow with brown or black bands on the abdomen.  Many resemble wasps, others closely resemble bees, but none sting.  The flies have the ability to hover in flight for long periods.  Many syrphid fly larvae are predaceous especially on aphids
Parasitic Wasps: Parasitic wasps are an extremely important and large group of beneficial insects with about 16,000 species occurring in North America.  These wasps are very small, most less than 1/8 inch long and usually not noticed.  Some wasp larvae feed and pupate inside the host and the emerging wasp leaves a small circular hole in the body of the host as evidence of parasitism.  Many harmful insects such as aphids, whiteflies, scales, leafminers and caterpillars are parasitized.  Other parasite larvae live on the outside of its host where they construct numerous small, white cocoons attaching to the body of the host.

Tachinid Flies: Tachinid flies are parasitic in the larval stage and are a valuable asset in keeping many of our serious pests in check.  There are about 1,300 North American species.  Many tachinids resemble the common housefly, but are a little larger.  Others are bee- or wasp-like in appearance.  One tachinid fly, the red-eyed fly, was brought in from South America as a biological control for the mole cricket.
Earwigs: Many earwigs are predaceous upon lawn insect pests such as chinch bugs, small mole crickets and sod webworms.  This is a large species up to 1 inch long with mandible-like pincers in the abdomen.  In laboratory observations they consume up to 50 chinch bugs a day.
Big-Eyed Bug: This insect resembles a chinch bug except for its enlarged eyes.  They love to eat chinch bugs, small caterpillars and soft-bodied insects on the soil surface.  They are up to 1/8 inch long.

Spiders: Spiders are not true insects, but arachnids.  They feed on a wide variety of insects.  The majority captures their prey in webs, but some such as the jumping spider, pounce on victims.  The latter are especially effective in capturing insects that inhabit the soil surface or plant foliage.  Only a few spiders such as the black and brown widow, tarantula, and brown recluse are poisonous to man.
Lady Beetles: aka Lady Bugs Lady beetles are among the best known and most beneficial insects.  There are about 475 species occurring in North America.  Both the adults and larvae of lady beetles consume aphids, immature scale insects, mealybugs, mites and other soft-bodied insect pests as well as insect eggs.  Adult lady beetles are oval shaped and most are orange or reddish with black markings.  Most lady beetles are about 1/4 inch long.

Many lady beetle larvae are elongate, somewhat flattened and covered with small spines.  They are usually dark or black with bright colored spots or bands.  The legs are long and slender.  Some lady beetle larvae are covered with a white flocculent secretion and resemble pest mealy bugs.  Studies have found that 200-500 aphids are consumed during the larval stage.  The adults are usually even more voracious.
Bees: Bees are among the most important pollinators.  With decimation of native honeybee colonies from disease and mites, ground-dwelling bumble bees, have become more important.
Butterflies: These beautiful creatures are valuable pollinators and contribute esthetically to our gardens.  However, caterpillars of some butterflies can damage plants by defoliating them.  More than 100 species of butterflies occur in Florida.
Dragonflies: Dragonflies, also nicknamed "mosquito hawks" consume significant numbers of mosquitoes and other flying insects.  They are sensitive to pesticides and their presence indicates an environmentally friendly garden.  Dragonfly nymphs are aquatic and can help to control mosquito larvae before they become biting adults.
Golden Silk Spider:  This spider is found throughout Florida.  The female is distinctively colored and among the largest orb-weaving spiders in the country.  Males are small, dark brown in color and often found in the webs of females.  These spiders feed primarily on flying insects, which they catch in webs that may be more than a meter in diameter.  They are most commonly found in forests, along trails and at clearing edges.

Giant Swallowtail:  The adult butterfly has a wingspan of 3 to 6 inches.  The upper surface of the wings is brown with a row of large yellow spots along the margins and a prominent diagonal yellow band.  It is often seen taking moisture at mud puddles and at damp sand.  The giant swallowtail larva is a caterpillar 1-2 inches long with a blotchy brown and white pattern.  It can look like bird droppings.  These caterpillars feed primarily on citrus in Florida and are called 'orange dogs' because they are often found in orange groves.
Jumping Spider:  All species are small, usually less than 15 mm long.  They are identified by their eye arrangement, which is in three rows.  Jumping spiders do not construct webs, but actively hunt prey during the day, pouncing on victims.  Many are brightly colored, sometimes with iridescent mouthparts.
Monarch:  The monarch may be the most familiar U. S. butterfly.  It has gotten lots of publicity because of its migratory flights to Mexico, although it can maintain residence year-round in South Florida.  It is bright orange, with a white-spotted black border with black-outlined veins.  The male has a black patch in the middle of each hindwing.  The larval caterpillars are dramatically ringed with yellow, black and white on each segment.  Adults feed on and pollinate many perennial flowers, especially the milkweeds.
Praying Mantids:  These are large scary-looking insects usually over 2 inches in length and may be green or brown.  There are only 20 species in the U. S. and Canada but more than 1500 worldwide.  The front legs are modified for grasping and holding prey.  They wait patiently among the foliage, legs in an upraised position, for unsuspecting insects.  Mantids have a triangular head and are the only insects able to look over their shoulder.  The egg capsules of mantids contain 200 or more eggs arranged in a pattern deposited on twigs or stems.
Predatory Stink Bugs:  The most familiar stinkbugs to gardeners are those that are crop destroying.  However some stinkbugs are beneficial.  These can be identified by spines projecting from their thoraxes, whereas plant feeders have round shoulders.  The predaceous forms also have short, stout beaks while plant-feeding forms have long, thin mouthparts.  The predators feed on many insects, especially caterpillars.

Cloudless Sulphur:  This large yellow butterfly has a wingspan of 2 inches.  It migrates through Florida annually and shows a preference for red blossoms such as those of the shrimp plant, railroad vine, turk's cap and hibiscus.  The caterpillar has a pebbly surface and bears a distinct lateral yellow stripe running the length of the body.  The larvae feed on Cassia.
Green lynx spider:  This spider is commonly encountered on shrubs, weeds, and foliage.  The body is a vivid, almost transparent green, with red spots and some white markings.  The legs are long, slender and covered at intervals with long black spines.  These spiders have good eyesight and stalk their prey during daylight.  They spin no webs but sometimes anchor themselves with silk.  They are important predators of caterpillars.

Polistes Wasps:  Also called paper wasps, they are primarily predators of caterpillars.  The caterpillars are stung and paralyzed then placed in the individual cells or chambers of the nest as food for developing wasp larvae.
Cicada Killer Wasp:  This wasp is 16mm long and back in color with pale yellow markings on the last three abdominal segments.  It is a solitary wasp but colonies nest in the same location, each female digging a hole up to 10 inches deep.  It stings and paralyzes cicadas and a closely related species attacks and kills flies.

Yellowjacket:  It is about 12 mm long and has alternating yellow and black markings on the abdomen.  The wasp is very aggressive in defending itself or its nest.  The stinger is not barbed so the wasp can sting repeatedly.